Besides The Killing Fields, I spent my humble time in Phnom Penh strolling around this city. My Cambodian friend actually showed me around the city by her motorbike when we met up for a couple of hours in the morning. However, I wanted to take a closer look at places, people and their life in this city with a slow pace so I wandered around the city again.
I hit up Central Market where people sell everything. The inside was silver shops while the compound was used to sell cooking ingredients, fruit, cooked food, flowers and clothes. The food corner seemed to be the most crowded place in the market. Different kinds of food were sold there, including Vietnamese one, as there is a number of Vietnamese living in Phnom Penh in particular and Cambodia in general. The Central Market pretty much reminded me of Ben Thanh Market in Saigon which is a tourist and commercial spot with pricey stuff. From the Central Market, I made my way to the Royal Palace but I didn’t get inside (I actually wasn’t meant to get in the palace) although it is recommended in every article about PP’s attractions, since it wasn’t impressive enough for me. I just watched it from outside, walked around and played with the doves.
I also pulled into the Orussey Market as it’s just next to the guesthouse I stayed (only 1 min walking). As the biggest market and the commercial center of Cambodians in Phnom Penh, this one has everything from fresh food, household supplies to electronic tools, accessories, clothing and much more, but the stuff here, even things in its neighbourhood are cheaper than the ones in Central Market. For instance, at the guesthouse I stayed, the price for a private room with shared bathroom was only 4$ which is rare in the city center. The reason is probably that this market area is much more geared towards locals than tourists. However, I found it interesting as not only did I get cheap stuff (means I could save money), but I also had chance to observe vibrant daily life activities of the locals. More excitingly, this are is the place that Cambodians, Vietnamese and Chinese communities live together, which I hadn’t known until staying there. The cross culture appears everywhere, from sign boards written in different languages, numerous Vietnamese or Chinese restaurants besides the Cambodian ones to the languages people speak. My friend took me to a Chinese restaurant where I had a really good and huge potato salad plate for only 1.5$! It’s just wicked!
I wasn’t lucky with Couchsurfing this time. The potential hosts whom I sent requests were either hosting other CSers or busy with work, so they all declined my requests. But I met Carlos who is a Spanish traveller instead (that’s the reason why I stayed at a guesthouse). We knew each other through our blogs. I accidentally pumped into his blog and left a comment on a post of him, then he replied and even sent me an email saying he would be in Phnom Penh at the time I came there. We kept in touch since. Carlos is the traveller that I want to be. He’s smart, laid – back, adventurous and very helpful. He quit his job in Spain to travel for long around the world. He has been back and forth in Cambodia for several times over 6 months and stayed in a farm in Kampot for 4 months when he was short of money. During the time in Kampot and in Phnom Penh, he got to listen and interact with local people so he knows this country quite well. He helped me a lot before and during my time in Cambodia: writing me very detailed information about Phnom Penh, helping me book a guesthouse room and sort out Cambodian SIM card and taking me to cheap – but – good restaurants (the guesthouse and the Chinese restaurant I wrote above were actually introduced by Carlos). The more I talked to him, the more I realized how immature I was. What I have done so far on my travels is nothing compared to what Carlos has done. He’s a real backpacker who likes getting to know the locals and discovering countries with all sides of them. I have learnt so much from Carlos, such as how to talk to locals, how to get cheap food and more importantly how to travel cheaper but better. Now we still stay in touch, mostly through blogs. His blog is Navarreando por el mundo where you can find posts on Carlos’s experiences, perspective and crucial and helpful information or tips about the countries he has been.
So after all, what do I think about Phnom Penh? It’s crazy and dirty. Seriously! Dust was everywhere, which made the city looks like a construction field. I discovered that this happens mostly everywhere in Cambodia after travelling to different places in this country. The amount of dust and trash can be more or less, depending on the number of traffic and people, but they are all gritty.
Traffic in Phnom Penh is another shock for me. Traffic in Hanoi is crazy, said by everyone, but the one in Phnom Penh is crazier, more chaotic, overwhelming and disordered. People drove fast while there were a lot of vehicles on the streets. I thought I would be fine with the traffic in Phnom Penh since I am so familiar with one in Hanoi, but it’s the one I was scared the most here. Shame!
As a traveller, I was the object of tuk tuk and motorbike drivers. Since I got out of the bus, I was covered by tuk tuk and motorbike drivers who asked me to hire them to take me to my guesthouse. They kept following and asking, some even chased after me (yes, chasing, by their motorbike) although I had already told that I could walk, which somehow annoyed me. Another time, when I was walking around the royal palace, I was approached by a guy who spoke English really well. We chatted for a while, he appeared very nice until I said my Cambodian friend had taken me to places in Phnom Penh. It turned out the guy was a tuk tuk driver and he was trying to convince me to go around the city by his tuk tuk. But sadly he wasn’t lucky enough. And I was also approached by another motorbike driver who stood in front of the guesthouse I stayed everyday to caught guests. He was very nice to me, very very very nice: saying hello, asking how I was every morning, shaking hands, etc. But I knew his purpose. He just wanted me to hire him. I knew he had to lead his life, but I couldn’t do anything better than smiling and saying sorry. Then I thought of the same situation in Hanoi and felt sympathized with tourists who are often annoyed by motorbike drivers. Two countries, one issue. Hanoi is prettier than Phnom Penh, there are more things to do than Phnom Penh. However, ironically, while Phnom Penh and Cambodia are getting more tourists (probably because of Angkor, I guess), Hanoi and Vietnam are losing theirs. The tourism in Vietnam would be more fruitful with better service. Thanks travelling for giving me insightful thoughts about my country although I was travelling to other countries. The more I travel, the more I understand my home country, the more I love it, the more I feel painful for it. How beautiful it is, but also how problematic it is!
Is Phnom Penh that bad? The answer is definitely NO. I actually met some friendly and helpful people. One was a motorbike driver who not only drove me to a market which was the meeting point for my bus to the volunteering place I wanted to go, but also helped me call the bus driver and find the exact location of the meeting point. One was the bus driver who gave me bread and water while we were going to the volunteering orphanage. One was the bread vendor near my guesthouse. And other people who were genuinely nice to me. But I don’t like Phnom Penh personally. It just doesn’t suit me! I know some people are really in love with this city, some are not. Some even hate it, completely. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it. Travel is all about how we feel, isn’t it? Phnom Penh’s actually fun in some way and I still want to go back sometime to discover more and get to understand it better. Yeah, till then…